How Libraries Can Leverage Twitter

Twitter has been working pretty well at our library. It is coming up on two years since our first tweet. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we use Twitter and our successes and shortcomings with it. Looking back on tweets, conversations, and interactions from the past year and a half, I noticed 7 ways that we are leveraging Twitter to improve our library, our services, and our relationships with users. We are leveraging Twitter to:

Report library happenings

If the library is closing early due to weather or if a printer is down, we can communicate via Twitter, among other channels. If we are having events like an international photo contest or a chili cook off, we can let people know. It’s also helpful to let people know when new displays, art, or exhibits are put up. I like to post an update every time we put up our new book display for the month as well as post a picture of a particularly interesting cover.

Promote library resources/services

When we get new interesting resources, we let people know via Twitter. When we got Mango languages, I posted it to Twitter and people retweeted the post and asked about it a lot.  I also even simply promote our print collection at relevant times. On St. Patrick’s Day I posted this tweet promoting Oscar Wilde’s short fiction. About half an hour later a student came up from the stacks with a James Joyce title and said he was inspired by the library’s Twitter post.

Build community

Looking at the statistics for our library Twitter account, 31% of all our tweets are retweets. That means that at least third of the content, ideas, and events we’re promoting are not our own. Last week we relayed a message from a student about the Vagina Monologues production that was going to be happening on campus. We also have posted information about the human versus zombies game that occurs every fall (for more info about this fairly awesome game, go here). Libraries are hearts of the community, so of course we want to promote what other people are doing. One of our strategic goals at the library is “foster a sense of campus community” and Twitter helps us to do that.

Engage our users

We don’t simply use twitter as a bullhorn though either. We try to engage members of our community. I post news articles of relevance and ask questions. I also noticed when people are working on papers or projects and do what I can to encourage them or help them. Below is an interaction where a student was writing a business paper on virtual teams, and it was an opportunity for the library to help.

Monitor library related tweets

People are likely saying things about your library or things that are related to your library. The reason I am able to find questions or tweets like the one above is because I monitor our Champlain College hashtag and because I have some tweet alerts set up for specific word related to libraries, research, and papers. Through this monitoring, we can address user concerns and answer their questions.

Solicit feedback

This is something that we are not doing quite as well, and I hope that we can improve. But Twitter is a perfect tool to ask for feedback on some service you are thinking about adding or some initiative you recently implemented. Twitter is great for informally asking questions. When designing resources or services for users, it’s important to actually ask them. Twitter is one tool that could facilitate that.

Create greater awareness of the library

Doing all the aforementioned things creates a greater awareness of the library and what it has to offer. Being active on social networking sites like Twitter makes the library more visible. Not every post gets noticed. And some that you think go unnoticed are actually effective. With the St. Patrick’s Day post I mentioned before, no one tweeted back saying what a good post it was. It seemed like it may have fallen on deaf ears. But not long after a student came in, mentioned he saw the post, and checked out a book because of it.

Facebook, email, and print are all important too and should be used accordingly depending on your community. But Twitter is great tool to have in your communication toolbox. It can be powerful in furthering your library’s mission.


Meebo Bar for Libraries

A lot of libraries use widgets on their pages to answer virtual reference questions. They use things like Meebo, Digsby, AIM, and the very cool Library H3LP.  Yet recently Meebo co-founder Seth Sternberg, one of the pioneers of widgets on the web, pretty much said that widgets suck. His argument was that widgets can’t be easily updated (you have to copy and paste in an entirely new widget) and that they take up a significant amount of screen real estate.

Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages.

For possible downsides, because it is all hosted on Meebo’s server it could be changed at anytime. They might decide one day to include ads on all their bars. Though I think their current model of opting into ads for a small cut of the revenue is working for them. But other than that it seems like it could be the next generation of service for libraries providing virtual reference to their members. I made a quick screencast demoing an example of what a library Meebo Bar could look like. If you want to play with one yourself, you can visit their website or see it in action over at Slate.

Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?


Technology, Reflection, and the Good Life

slide to power off

Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Pennsylvania went on a social media blackout this week starting Monday in order to get students thinking about their use of technology in their lives. This seems like a very interesting experiment, especially for a technology school. Depending on how it is executed it could be an educational success or a failure in which students are simply trying to thwart the university’s efforts.

Whatever the outcome, I like the sentiment behind this experiment. As librarians and educators we should be teaching students to be thoughtful, reflective individuals and to integrate technology meaningfully into their life. These skill are integrally tied to information literacy and are ones that they will desperately need as connected citizens in this society.

The value of digital fasts such as the one at Harrisburg are debatable (found via Librarian By Day). As we all know email can pile up, and important messages could be missed. Steven Bell suggests that simply taking time occasionally to power down and leave the screen for a while can be useful for reflection and rejuvenation. Like anything, I feel that it is best to maintain balance. Completely shutting down for a week and then playing catch up will have you stressed that whole week.

We realize that there is value in disconnecting sometimes. I recently started reading the book Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. Powers draws on philosophers of the past to gain practical insights into our present technological age (ironically I’m reading this book on my iPad which is another piece of connected digital technology). He says that in order to make meaning of our digital interactions we need to create gaps in between them for reflection. These gaps allow for “epiphanies, insights, and joys.”

This makes sense. This has happened in my life and happens to everyone. My colleague Sarah is constantly talking about the great ideas that she comes up with in the shower. Periods of reflection allow us to create meaning. But do students feel the same way? Do they see the value in unplugging and taking time for reflection? In one of our information literacy classes at Champlain College we devote time to this. We talk about how research is not just finding information and throwing it all together. It is necessary to take time to think about how different pieces fit together and what your next steps will be. We actually give students five minutes to reflect in class. I like this lesson and want to flesh it out more and improve on it.

We don’t have all the answers ourselves as professionals. Some of us over-tweet, are buried in emails and are constantly re-acting when we should be acting. I don’t think a social media blackout is the answer for everyone, but I do appreciate additional attention to this issue. We should be creating more dialogue on our campus that discuss this issue of technology, reflection, and the good life. Librarians could be thoughtful leaders in these discussions.